ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AFP) - In the glitzy, glamorous world of high fashion, photographer Peter Lindbergh is a rarity. The clothes are almost an after-thought, and Vogue magazine once tossed a now iconic picture into the bin.
But this modest German, opening his first major international retrospective in Rotterdam, is the man credited with creating supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista.
It was his raw, black-and-white images of models gazing confidently, almost challengingly into the camera, their faces virtually bare of make-up, that overturned existing glossy notions of beauty and fashion.
“The way he photographed people goes beyond just the artificial surface that you see when you read a fashion magazine... I discovered the work of an artist,” said curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot who has put together the exhibition “A Different Vision on Fashion Photography.”
Opened on Saturday at the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, the exhibition contains more than 220 of Lindbergh's pioneering photos, many culled from his previously unseen private archives.
It was a 1988 photo of a group of young women in white shirts shot on a beach of Malibu that was to launch all of their careers, and propel Lindbergh and his work to a new level.
But the then Vogue editor, who commissioned the shoot, was unhappy with the clean, natural look at a time in the 1980s when according to Loriot it was “all big make-up and big hair” and the picture was tossed aside.
It was Anna Wintour, on taking over the magazine’s helm a few months later, who found the photo and promptly hired Lindbergh for her first cover shoot.
The group of new faces included Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Tatjana Patitz who all went on to become stars of the international catwalks.
Patitz, who has worked on numerous shoots with Lindbergh, told Friday's press launch that Lindbergh’s work “was always about bringing you out... it was much more deconstructed and simple.”
African American Karen Alexander, who was also in the 1988 beach photo, said she had “no idea that that image would have the impact that it has had on our industry.”
“At that time, there were very few black models, so for me, being in Vogue was a huge deal.”
She was incredibly nervous, but Lindbergh had a way of communicating that “I had a right to be there, that I deserved to be there.”
What is beauty?
Whereas other photographers would use a lot of makeup and clothes “that you can hide behind, Peter requires you to show up and be yourself. And that's a lot harder.”
Alexander was among seven supermodels -- all wearing white shirts with little make-up in tribute to that famous photo -- who travelled to Rotterdam Friday for the launch of the exhibition, including Dutch star Lara Stone and US actress Milla Jovovich.
Being yourself “is the very definition of beauty,” said Lindbergh at Friday’s press launch.
Lindbergh, 71, gave Loriot full access to his meticulously kept files from more than four decades working as a photographer.
There were “incredible boxes full of treasures” containing about 500,000 images which Loriot spent one year whittling down to an initial 10,000, before paring them back again.
The exhibition unravels thematically rather than chronologically revealing the work of Lindbergh, who was born in western Poland in 1944 but moved with his family to Germany as a baby, ending up in the industrial town of Duisburg.
His grainy photographs, blown up large, often show the beauty and courage he saw reflected in city streets, bridges and stark steelworks around him -- as well as his interest in early German cinema.
Even today he conducts shoots in such gritty places as derelict warehouses.
Also on display are collections of coffee-stained notes and letters from stars such as Evangelista and fashion designer John Galliano, old film rolls, contact sheets and story boards and even discarded sandals, signed by one of his models.
The exhibition lasts until Feb. 12, 2017, and will then travel to Munich where it will open in April.